After wandering around Thailand and Laos without any real purpose other than to see cool things, I felt ready for a little more of a routine.
I really enjoyed my volunteer experience in Nepal, so I thought I would try it again in Cambodia with a different organization to see how it would compare. I’ll spare you the details of my constant self-doubt and internal conflicts that resulted from my volunteer position, but basically I felt morally torn as to whether what I was doing was right or if I was effectively contributing to corruption in voluntourisim, especially within orphanages.
I spent the majority of my two weeks in Siem Reap at a volunteer house with other young volunteers. That in itself really affected the way I felt while I was there; it wasn’t an authentic experience and it mostly felt like I was living in a dorm with a bunch of young college kids with ulterior motives. But in the end, my experience isn’t something that I would change regardless of how I felt during the time and if anything, I feel like I can now make a more educated decision regarding volunteering abroad.
Siem Reap itself is a loud tourist trap of a city, and I found it hard to escape the constant calls of tuk-tuk drivers and peddlers. I didn’t give myself too much time in Cambodia, since I wanted to meet my parents in South Korea, so I made Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples my priority when I had time off from volunteering.
I went with a few volunteers early in the morning to Angkor Wat for sunrise. It was definitely worth battling the throngs of people to see it because 1) it was spectacular and 2) it wasn’t a million degrees out… yet.
The temple is, for lack of a better word, impressive. I could have spent all day just strolling around the grounds there. It was absolutely stunning and overwhelming. It’s hard to believe that people could create such beautifully intricate works of art with nothing but a chisel.
I bought a 3-day pass for the park, so the next day I rented a bike for a dollar and rode out along the big circuit to see some of the other popular temples in the area.
From my volunteer house and back, the ride was about 26 miles. It wasn’t difficult at all, since the roads are flat, traffic on the big circuit is light and you’re constantly stopping along the way at various places. You can certainly hire a tuk-tuk to take you around as it would be faster and save you a lot of energy, but there was something so much more peaceful and rewarding doing it on my own.
I visited more temples along the big circuit than I can remember, among which were Prasat Kravan:
and Srah Srang, the royal bath:
At one point, I hired a motor-bike to take me further out to another famous temple, Benteay Srei, which translates to “city of women”. Supposedly, it is believed that women were the main artists of the temple, based on the surpassing intricacy of the carvings compared to the surrounding temples.
It’s been very well restored and unlike most other temples, the majority of the grounds had been roped off to prevent damage from foot traffic.
Bayon was equally impressive as Angkor Wat and just as weird with looming faces peering at you from every corner.
I visited there late in the afternoon when the traffic had died down and people were making their way to Angkor Wat to witness the sunset, so it was much more peaceful to walk around.
Ta Prohm was a mad-house of tour groups. The tree growth takes over the temple stones and if it weren’t for all the tourists, I could have closed my eyes and pretended I was Indiana Jones for the day. I bet he never had to deal with swarms of tourists to enter the temple (Nazis, maybe…)
All in all, I had the best experience biking around the temple by myself, and saw just about everything that I sought out. I’d like to think that it’s always best to leave a few things unseen for the next time.
Ok, one more monkey picture, because I just can’t resist. This guy was cracking me up.